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Corlea Trackway

The Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre interprets the significance of an Iron Age bog road dated to the year 148 BC, which crosses the boglands close to the River Shannon.

In 1984 a major pre historic trackway of large oak planks was discovered in the raised bog at Corlea near the village of Kenagh in County Longford.

Most of this track was in a Bord na Mona owned bog and was in an advanced stage of decay. Samples from the track were dated at Queens University in Belfast and this highlighted the importance of the track as the only example from Ireland dateable to the early Iron Age.

In 1985 excavation work began which discovered four other trackways in the same bog.

These were also investigated as well an additional sixteen tracks which were later found together along the western edge of the bog where they had been exposed by the activities of peat milling machines. Some of the trackways have been dated to as far back as  4000BC.

The survival of these tracks through thousands of years greatly broadens our knowledge of early civilisations in Ireland.

According to the experts who excavated Corlea Trackway it would have been built to allow the passage of wheeled vehicles.

It was however not long in use before it actually sank into the peat where it then remained preserved until its discovery in 1984.

Although similar trackways have been found in Germany, the Netherlands and Britain, none compare to the great Iron Age trackway at Corlea which is bigger and heavier than any other prehistoric road in Europe.

The unique nature of the Corlea Bog area was recognised by the building of an Exhibition Centre in 1994. This centre highlights the importance of the site in archaeological terms and has become a major atttraction in the Midlands of Ireland.

It is built on the exact axis of the trackway and a boardwalk across the bogland follows the course of the remaining trackway buried within the bog.

Inside the building, an 18 metre stretch of the preserved road is on permanent display in a specially designed hall.

Exhibitions in the centre are on Iron Age Trackways, archaeology and bog culture. There is an audio visual presentation as well as interpretive panels and related artifacts.

Bord na Mona and the Heritage Service have carried out conservation work on the surrounding bogland to ensure that it retains its moisture content and that the buried road is well preserved.

Research on the time period the trackway is dated to indicates that significant tribal developments were then taking place in Ireland. Great Celtic centres of power such as Ulsters Eamhain Macha, in  Co Armagh were built.

Connachts centre at Royal Cruachain, near Tulsk in County Roscommon was also an important construction and may very well have been the destination which Corlea Trackway was intended to serve.

It is possible that the trackway was built as part of a network of major communications between sites such as these.

There are also indications, in ancient Irish texts, most specifically ‘The Yellow Book of Lecan’ that this pre historic road may have been built by the Fairy Prince Midir and his people as payment for loosing a game of fidchell  (chess) to Eochaid , High King of Ireland.

The legend ‘The Wooing of Étaín’ is based mainly at Brí Léith in Ardagh, Co Longford not far from Kenagh and Corlea Bog. Brí Léith was the royal stronghold of Midir.

The story  tells us that Midir challenged Eochaid the King of Ireland to several games of fidchell (chess) in an attempt to win back his beloved Étaín who had become the wife of the King.

The games were played for ever increasing stakes and upon loosing one of these games the King ordered Midir to build a causeway across the bogland of Móin Lámrige.

Whether Corlea Trackway is the causeway referred to in the legend  ‘The Wooing of Étaín’  or not the story certainly adds an enchanting twist on the purpose or origin of its construction.

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